FAME Review: Nnenna Freelon & John Brown Big Band - Christmas
Nnenna Freelon & John Brown Big Band - Christmas


Nnenna Freelon & John Brown Big Band

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

You know you love Xmas discs, you know you love swing, and you know you sure as thunder need time out as we slowly descend into capitalist hell, so it's time to put existential cares aside and reward yourself with some groovin' holiday revelry…and revelry is what you get plenty of in Christmas with Nnenna Freelon and the John Brown Big Band, even in the Spiritual Medley. In fact, that's my favorite cut 'cause it starts out with Freelon a capella (and trust me, as much as her voice works really well with the band, it shines even more brightly on its own), just a drummer behind her, and then works up a head of gently swingin' steam. It's unlikely you've heard such a combination of the sacred and profane, I'm tellin' ya.

Let It Snow is a great exposition of what the singer can do with a standard track, fidelitous to the original while turning it sideways and having fun, but, lord!, what she does with Duke's I Like the Sunrise! Her reading should be a stage number, not just a cut on a Christmas album, Brown's band a cross between a hip Grofe and Gershwin, painting the ground and sky around her. Then, just as you're dialed in, the Peanuts classic Christmas Time is Here arrives and gets turbo-charged from its original beautiful slow tempo into a dancing, skipping, larking track making hundreds of angels in the snow. Forget the quiescent 'loo-loo-loo' vibe, this is 'hey-bop-a-reebop!'.

Nnenna then turns Silent Night upside down, equally swingin' and far more gritty than the original, FAR more, almost a swing-blues, with a waaaaay cool wailing organ solo by Brandon McCune in the middle eight. John Brown's arrangements fly back to the old Dorsey / Shaw days, but the charting for the solos are far more what Lionel Hampton would've written in. O Little Town of Bethlehem is perhaps the most standard rendering, but with a lot of soul injected. Baby, It's Cold Outside features a killer vocal duet with none other than Bandleader Brown, a play between coy innocence and sensuality that puts the fire back in the wintertime hearth. Thus, if you're quite feeling like listening to Father Fitzsimmons drone on and on from the Bible as the holidays approach, I suggest you tuck into this CD instead. And send the dear Father a bottle of Manishevitz's best in lieu. Everything tends to work out.

Track List:

  • Swing Jingle Bells
  • Spiritual Medley
  • Let It Snow
  • I Like the Sunrise
  • Christmas Time Is Here
  • Silent Night
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside
  • I'll Be Home for Christmas

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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